As a Jesuit scholastic, it’s impossible for me not to rub elbows with ‘Jesuit Volunteers’ (JVs) and ‘Former Jesuit Volunteers’ (FJVs). These are recent college grads who sign up for a year or two of service among the poor. Think Jesuit-styled Peace Corps and AmeriCorps; this is the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. They honor four core values: spirituality, simplicity, social justice, and community. And, like any Jesuit-friendly group, they know how to throw a great party to celebrate those values and their good work.
At first glance, a JVC house party looks like any other house party. A dim light guides people up the stairs to a porch that will be occupied by deep thinking sometimes-smokers, and there’s a magic markered note on the door: “please take your shoes off!” Below this note, the pile of kicks in the small foyer is diverse — several pairs of Toms and Chuck Taylors, old running shoes and well-worn Sperry knock-offs. There might be some hiking boots or rugged adventure sandals, and lots of Target-bought ballet flats, usually teal, wine, mustard yellow, or cheetah print.
Inside the main room, it’s loud, clusters of young people embracing as old friends and talking excitedly. There’s also some epic, painstakingly chosen, dance tracks playing. In a few hours, the talking will subside, and dance will rule the room. There’s a dark narrow hallway, walls plastered with artifacts of prior tenants — quote collage and religious imagery abound, prayer flags shredded and dangling, announcements about actions and protests, maps and christmas cards slightly withered from years of hanging on.
The bathroom is always occupied.
The kitchen is freshly cleaned but cluttered, bright and packed with more people. It’s stocked with plenty of oatmeal, flour, and canned chickpeas.The fridge has a chore chart on its door, and it’s full of PBR and a smattering of micro brews. Also punch, perhaps, or a coveted bottle of bourbon. There’s way more stuff than the cupboards have room for, and piles of recyclable materials await removal, crusty, with a slight stench. There might be a back room with several sort-of-functioning bicycles in it, and there’s definitely a basement or back porch with a table ready for flip-cup or some other evening-escalating activity.
But the best part–the thing that really sets this place apart from the typical house party location–a table full of creative homemade baked goods and vegetarian / vegan friendly savory snacks. Some organic almonds, hummus, crackers, cheese. Maybe even a veggie tray with exotic dips.
All of it–the house, the snacks, the people–I love it. I love JVs. I don’t want these nights to end.
I’ve been to a few parties that ruin me for a night, but JVs use a similar phrase to describe their year of service: “ruined for life.” It suggests that after JVC, they’ll never be the same. I understand why. There they are, thrust together without much money, with no say as to who their roommates are, and with responsibilities to maintain a high functioning and intentional community life while holding a full-time job–usually their first out of college–that puts them face-to-face with the poor. They have to pray together too.
JVs and FJVs (indeed, post-grad volunteers in general) are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. I have eaten and drank many a night away in their company, and I have served along side them. Day shelters in Boise, L’Arche homes in Spokane, Rural schoolhouses and churches in South Dakota. And yet, I wasn’t a JV, am not an FJV. At times, I feel that distinction as a distance. When I think about my own education and experiences of the margins, my own year of service at a Jesuit high school eating donated hotdog bun PB&J for lunch, and my own vocation to religious life, what I want to say to every JV and FJV is this: dammit, I’m ruined, too!
All Christians are ruined…or ought to be. The Christian faith is, after all, an inconvenient one. It’s about loving enemies. It’s about living for and with the poor. It’s about forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s about conversion of systems of injustice. It’s about facing the darkest stuff our world offers, and hoping beyond hope that goodness will shine through. Maintaining this faith is exhausting. Taking it seriously would ruin anyone.
I learn a lot from JVs and FJVs about what it means to be a Jesuit. I’ve had the privilege of serving as a spiritual director for a JV these past months. It’s been a tough year for her. It had to be. She had to be ruined. How else will she actualize the radical reinvention that the Jesuit Volunteer Corps calls her to? That Jesus calls her to? But, she hasn’t quit, despite the hardship, heartbreak, and inconvenience of it all. She has become stronger, wiser, focused, and prayerful.
She and other JVs and FJVs have shown me time and time again that to be ruined is to be called forth, crushed by an experience of reality in four core values that can form the foundation of a life in faith that does justice. And, when they are ruined, I’m ruined. They ruin me by their witness of embracing inconvenience and always going further still. So, thanks, a lot, JVC. You didn’t make it easier for me, but you weren’t supposed to. You showed me that it’s good to be ruined, and that I am.
The cover image, from Flickr user Ginny, can be found here.